I will start this off by saying this will not be an article slamming new Flyers coach Dave Hakstol. I was in favor of the hiring at the time and I still am. It showed that Flyers GM Ron Hextall was willing to think outside of the box. He hired only the second coach straight from college in the last 30 years, the first being Badger Bob Johnson who was hired straight from the University of Wisconsin to coach the Calgary Flames in the early 1980s. Hakstol ran an extremely successful program at the University of North Dakota, bringing the Fighting Sioux (they will always be the Sioux in my eyes) to seven Frozen Fours in his 11 years of coaching there. He is known to be an honest and fair coach with a great work ethic and a great hockey mind. And with the Flyers in the process of transitioning from a veteran team to a young team, he seems to be the perfect choice because he is a young coach who will be able to grow with the young players that will be arriving on the Flyers over the next several years.
This article is for all the armchair Flyers fans who constantly overvalued this team’s talent level and fool themselves in to thinking that this team is better than it actually is and have been doing so for the last three or four years. With Peter Laviolette the cry was, “He’s too hard on the players. He’s lost the team.” With Craig Berube it was “The Flyers are a playoff team with anyone other than Berube as the head coach.”
I never bought in to the notion that coaching has been the problem with this team and I’ve always been of the opinion that Craig Berube was a much better coach than people gave him credit for. And since this opinion puts me in the minority, (A position I seem to find myself in a lot) I’ve had many a spirited debate with Flyers fans about Craig Berube. When I would watch how well this team would play on certain nights and how good they would look and then look at the Flyers roster, it still amazes me that people could put the majority of the blame on Berube. I actually thought that he deserved consideration for Coach of the Year for bringing a team with the likes of Vinny Lecavalier, Andrew MacDonald, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn and Nick Grossman to the playoffs in 2014. A roster with that kind of dreck on it has no business qualifying for a playoff spot.
So here we sit, 18 games in to the 2015-16 season with the Flyers sitting at 6-8-4. How much has really changed? The Flyers are worse in every statistical category other than penalty killing than they were last year. They are almost in the identical position in the standings that they were last year. One could easily make the argument that this year’s team is a little more talented than last year’s team. Michal Neuvirth is a huge upgrade over last year’s back up goalie Ray Emery. And he already has made an impact because starter Steve Mason has already missed a significant amount of time due to personal issues. Sam Gagner has added an element of skill that the Flyers have been missing over the last several years.
Yet here we still sit with a Flyers team that is already buried in the standings only 18 games in to the season with very little chance of making the playoffs. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: coaching is NOT the problem with this team and hasn’t been for a while. It is a serious lack of talent. So to all of you Flyers fans on all the Flyers pages who think you invented the game of hockey, think twice before you start-up with the same old tired lament about the coach being the problem with this team. I can hear it already if this team continues to languish in the standings: “Why didn’t the Flyers go after a more experienced coach like a Dan Bylsma or a Peter DeBoer? Why didn’t we make more of a run at Mike Babcock? Hakstol needs to go back to coaching college kids.” If you’re going to continue blaming the coach your missing the bigger picture and I don’t care if you have Scotty Bowman or Toe Blake coaching this team.
Until this team upgrades its talent level, the Flyers will be on the outside looking in at the playoffs.